The COVID-19 pandemic is, beyond doubt, one of the most significant events in modern history. Our worlds were rocked by how swiftly it descended as a mysterious ‘flu’, quickly manifesting into a global showstopper. The unknowns outpaced the knowns by degrees we weren’t prepared for, and our penchant for assuming we are in control came to a terrifying realisation of the world’s uncertainty and fragility.
So, no wonder we panicked and are today still reeling from these shocks to our collective systems. It’s been enough to make the best of us insecure. But there is a real risk that this attitude might overstay its welcome and make us miss emerging opportunities.
“The conversation now says we are in the new normal – this is how it will be, and nothing we wait for will be different than it is now,” explains Jacques Malherbe, Axiz’s Chief Technology Officer. “It can get better from here or it can get worse. But this is the new normal. COVID has told us what to expect and we’ve been absorbing those lessons into society and into our behaviour. Now we’re into the new normal. So, what are we waiting for?”
Getting a grip on the pandemic
Malherbe is delicate in expressing this view. He’s not announcing that the pandemic is over, adding that we can’t treat factors such as vaccines as silver bullets. But he points out that we are much more aware of the risks and how to manage them. We know what we need to do.
“If you look at the start of the pandemic, nobody knew what was the best way forward. So we shut everything down, which was the right move at the time. Then, as we learned more, we adjusted. For example, restaurants have become very good at sanitising, social distancing and those things. Now you can go to a restaurant and face a low risk of contracting COVID. But if those restaurants decided to wait for the pandemic to be over, they’d be out of business by now.”
This point echoes the familiar maxim of the British armed forces: adapt, improvise and overcome. Inaction leads to marginalisation. While we wait for the ‘new normal’ to announce itself, the world will continue without us.
“What’s happening to your budget? What’s happening to your people? What’s happening to your customers? What is different that you have to do for your customers? And how can we as your distributor help? How do we develop new value propositions that address our customers in this new place?” These are the type of questions we must ask, says Malherbe.
Time of the opportunities
It’s time for those questions because they also showcase new opportunities. Yet Malherbe doesn’t take an absolutist tone about the transition. He’s not saying we should stop worrying and just get on with it. As attractive as stoic pragmatism can be, the pandemic also reminded us of something we’ve been neglecting.
“The pandemic forced us to come to grips with our humanity. It raised many red flags about our progress, how we treat the environment and each other. It’s telling us to clean up our act. So this acceptance of the new normal is not about getting back to business. We have to be super sensitive and cognitive of what people on a personal level are going through. Many of us lost people or know of ones who lost people. You cannot ride roughshod over that. We must create space for people to find their way in this new environment and create the safety net for them to function. Put in helplines and give them access to counsellors – things like that.”
This is perhaps the most negative side of using COVID as an excuse for inaction. It could make you less competitive. But it absolutely will rob your people of the means and support to find their way after the pandemic. It will curb our ability to forge cultures that embrace the new challenges, take the lessons seriously, and make meaningful changes that the modern world desperately needs.
Malherbe sees this as a new dawn for collaboration. It will significantly influence the IT world, where services are replacing transactions as the dominant model – and services are all about collaboration. That collaboration ethos can be used to revitalise the economy – in Axiz’s case, it’s expanding its role around empowering SME companies in the channel. Once we stop using COVID-19 as an excuse to wait and see, many possibilities become substantial.
“Extending into the new means that we have to actively engage with each other. Not one of us has got all the answers. You can’t enforce anything – it needs to be collaborative and sensitive around issues. It’s a whole new idea of working together to a better future. That sounds idealistic, but the pandemic has set the stage to realise that future through business outcomes and people’s outcomes.”